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How an Opening Changes over 8 Revisions

When I met up with an old friend this weekend, she asked how a novel could go through 10 or more revisions and what that looks like. She was really interested in the nitty-gritty. Explaining my process often makes me aware of how messy it is, how unlike the organized planning, outlining and drafting that my friend was expecting. I do outline, but not until after I have a rough draft, and then I routinely throw out large chunks and rewrite new ones.

Her questions made me wonder how I might give an example of this process, and I thought it might be interesting to go back and see how just the opening of my current novel The Keep of Ages evolved since I began it in June, 2015.

Below are the opening paragraphs from eight of my drafts, in order, for those who might be curious to see how the ideas and language evolved. Though this focus covers only one paragraph, similar thinking goes into revising the entire novel.

  1. June 9, 2015 (My earliest draft)

The desert smells stronger at night, as if the sage and dust exude extra molecules of odor to fill the absence of light. I close my car door softly and peer under the nearest boxcar, past the black circles of wheels to the back yard shadows on the other side. Carefully, making as little noise as possible over the rails, I crawl under the boxcar to the other side, where the valley expands towards the distant ridge. Above, the stars are dry and clear, unblinking.

  1. Feb 1, 2016

I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where the empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard. Rolling the focus knob slowly, I shift my focus from the spindly clothespins, up the back steps, to the shimmer of the screen door. The density of the inner door stands behind it, and the windows are closed, too, sealing the box of metal walls and baking the air inside.

  1. June 27, 2016

I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where an empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard like a white arrow. Rolling the focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps, to the shimmer of the inert screen door. If only they’d answer the phone. No one comes and no one leaves, not from the front, not from the back, which has to mean my family’s gone.

  1. August 19, 2016

I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where an empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard like a white slash. Heat shimmers around the metal, all but buckling the walls of our boxcar home. Rolling my focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps, to the drab gray of the screen door. Nothing moves. No one comes and no one leaves, not from the front and not from the back.

  1. September 23, 2016

I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where an empty laundry line cuts through the stillness of our back yard like a white slash. Heat shimmers around the metal, all but buckling the walls of our boxcar home. Rolling my focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps, to the drab gray of the screen door. Nothing moves. No one comes and no one leaves, until the stillness becomes a conviction.

  1. November 30, 2016

I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where the empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard like a white slash. Rolling my focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps to the screen door and then each window, one by one. Nothing moves. I watch until the colors go drab, until the stillness erodes my hope.

  1. March 10, 2017

Aside from a lone, persistent cicada, the desert evening is quiet. I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where the empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard like a white slash. Rolling my focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps to the screen door and then each window, one by one. Nothing moves. I watch until the colors go drab, until the stillness corrodes my hope.

  1. April 24, 2017 (Final draft, edited in first pass pages)

Aside from a lone cicada’s keening, the desert evening is quiet. I lean my shoulder against a boulder and aim my binoculars toward the boxcars, where the empty laundry line cuts through the heat of our back yard like a white slash. Rolling my focus knob, I shift my circle view up the back steps to the screen door and then to each window, one by one. Nothing moves. I watch until the colors go drab, until the stillness corrodes my hope.

4 Responses to How an Opening Changes over 8 Revisions

  • Thanks so much for posting this! It’s fascinating to see the transformation. Each paragraph is written so well so it’s not that you’ve necessarily improved the writting. What is so interesting is to see how the paragraphs offer tiny different changes which alter the context and direction of the novel. This is such a great lesson in writing! Will be shraing with the book club girls!

  • Thanks, Nicole! I’m glad it’s interesting to you. The changes are very small, but as you’ve noticed, they do shift the emphasis. I kept bringing the paragraph closer to what I wanted it to be until finally it seems just right.
    Hi to the girls!
    Hugs,
    Caragh

  • I thought each paragraph was perfect until I read the next one, when I realized what was missing from the one before! The final paragraph was not just perfect, but seemed to feel ‘right’. Thanks for sharing your writing process!

  • Mary ~ Yes, each time, I make it as good as I can, and then later I come back and see it needs to change, until finally it sort of sings to me and as you say, it feels ‘right.’ It’s easier to see it in retrospect than to do it at the time.
    All best,
    Caragh

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Upcoming Events

September 23, 2017: I’ll be speaking at the Tolland Public Library on Saturday, September 23rd, at 1:00 as part of the Eaton-Dimock-King Authors Series.

 

November 4, 2017: I’m appearing at the CT Children’s Book Fair on Saturday, November 4th in the Rome Ballroom at UConn. The event is free and open to the public.

 

November 5, 2017: I’m appearing at Anderson’s YA Fandom Frenzy on Sunday, November 5 in Lisle/Naperville, IL. Details to follow.

Caragh's Latest Favorite Reads

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Every Day
The Dog Stars
The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The Fault in Our Stars
Two of a Kind
Until It Hurts to Stop


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